*. Groundhog Day meets Starship Troopers. I guess. That’s what the producers called it anyway, and it’s how I’m going to break it down.
*. I’ll start with Groundhog Day, or the narrative of eternal return. The concept is beyond rational explanation, so the script doesn’t even make a pretence of explaining. Aliens (called Mimics) have invaded. The main alien (dubbed “the Omega”) has the ability to control time through some biological mechanism. When a soldier kills an “Alpha” alien he (or she) receives some kind of blood transfusion or plasmic bonding and is granted the same Mimic power to keep going through temporal loops. This is what happens to our reluctant hero Major William Cage (Tom Cruise). The only way for Cage to then get off the roundabout is to kill the Omega.
*. The idea of someone re-living the same period in their life over and over is not, if you spend any time thinking about it, not a fun one to entertain. It strikes me as being a bit too much like hell. It’s depressing too, as our hero has to keep killing himself in order to reset, forcing him to adopt a death wish as a narrative device. All Bill Murray had to do was go to bed.
*. Then, if you stop to think some more about how many lives Cage goes through in this film, you get a kind of vertigo. He must spend several lifetimes reliving just these few days. How does he stand the sheer boredom? When does he sleep?
*. I don’t think the target audience had the same problems I had. By target audience I mean young people (the source is a Japanese YA novel) who have grown up on video games. Both the author of the source novel (Hiroshi Sakurazaka) and the producer-director of Edge of Tomorrow (Doug Liman) explicitly made the connection between the protagonist’s life being reset every time he is killed as coming from video game play. I’ve talked many times before about how much today’s action films borrow from the look of video games, but this structural borrowing marks another level of absorption.
*. Another aspect of this kind of story that has to be finessed is the boredom that goes along with any repetition. Here the target demographic works against the film, as an audience raised on video games bores easily. The (only?) solution is to ramp up the pace and just whip the story along, leaving out all the dull parts. This is certainly something Edge of Tomorrow tries to do, and for the most part it’s successful. It may be brainless and incoherent, but the action rarely lets up enough for you to catch your breath.
*. So much for Groundhog Day, now on to Starship Troopers.
*. By Starship Troopers I mainly mean the retro-futuristic look of the war between soldiers and bugs. Frankly, I still think the FX in Starship Troopers look better, and that movie came out nearly twenty years earlier.
*. As with Starship Troopers the story is set in a strangely atemporal universe. Though it’s the near future, the great war for civilization is just a re-hash of WW2, with the Mimics as Nazis conquering Europe and the allied attack being a failed D-Day. Meawhile, we’re no longer using drones or missiles or even tanks, which leaves us stuck with grunts in exo-suits hitting the beach.
*. The Mimics, in turn, just look like CGI scribbles or frantic balls of yarn. I wasn’t impressed, but they move so fast you can’t get a good look at them anyway. Or at least they were moving too fast for me to get a good look at. But I’m old.
*. It’s fast, noisy, and very expensive. At the end of the day though, wouldn’t you rather play a movie like this than watch it?